Celia Haddon - Cat Expert

Understanding animals through their behaviour


Harvey, a dwarf lop, has published his autobiography here. c. Mike Toseland

Adopt don’t buy,

Don’t get a rabbit from a shop or a garden centre. Caring breeders don’t sell to pet shops, so you may not be getting a baby that has been carefully prepared for life as a pet. Some pet shops have no idea what breeds they are selling or how big the rabbit will grow. This means it is very difficult to work out how much space the rabbit needs in a hutch and run so you may be wasting your money buying a hutch which is too small.

Never buy on the internet – you don’t know where it’s come from. Always ask if the babies have been handled, if you are buying from an individual breeder. This is the way they learn human beings are friends (Zucca et al., 2012). If they haven’t been handled, the rabbit may be very frightened of being picked up (Schepers et al., 2009).

Best of all, go to a rescue centre. About 33,000 bunnies need new homes every year in the UK. At shelters you can get an adult rabbit. They always have adults (best for older children) and will also have babies at regular intervals. A good rescue centre will help you choose a compatible pair of rabbits, or introduce a new rabbit to your existing one. They will also help you choose a good hutch.

Children taken to a rescue shelter learn that a rabbit is not a commodity to be bought over the counter. They are usually thrilled and excited to help save a rabbit’s life and do something for animals. Consult www.rabbitrehome.org.uk of the Rabbit Welfare Fund for UK rescues. A good rescue will tell you of any problems. Rabbits should always be adopted in pairs as they are social animals – look here.


Breeds now have breed disorders, like pedigree dogs and cats. There is a shortage of good scientific information about this. Hereditary disorders include buphthalmos (glaucoma), splay leg,and hydrocephalus but these often appear in closed colonies in laboratories. There is some information on genetic problems in rabbit breeds on http://www.ufaw.org.uk/RABBITS.php  Do some research on the internet before you pick a breed. Never buy on impulse or out of pity.

If anybody can contribute more scientific  information please let me know.

Long haired rabbits. Be careful about buying fluffy little babies (Angora, Cashmere and lionhead breeds) which grow into long haired rabbits that need 10 minutes grooming daily otherwise they mat up and get fly strike. Angora rabbits in particular have coats which are not waterproof and therefore get damp. They are also prone to gut statis, as the fur builds up in their gut.

Lops. English lops have huge ears that trail on the ground and often get injured. They can suffer frostbite or ear infections. Indeed the ears are so huge that they find it difficult to move and thus become obese. This is a breed which is innately dysfunctional. Other lop breeds are prone to ear mites, tooth and jaw problems. Some French lops are prone to ear mites, tooth and problems, entropion, glaucoma and femoral luxation. The large folds of skin may become infected and these breeds also may suffer from entropion (Harcourt-Brown 2002)

Giant breeds. These need giant houses and runs, and may be more likely to suffer from splay legs.

New Zealand whites may be prone to glaucoma and ataxis.

Dwarf breeds. Netherland dwarfs are prone to tooth and jaw problems. Dwarf breeds may be more susceptible to torticollis (Harcourt-Brown 2002)

Rex rabbits. The very soft thin fur in this breed makes them more susceptible to sore hocks (Harcourt-Brown 2002).


Harcourt-Brown, F., (2002), The Textbook of Rabbit Medicine, Oxford, UK, Butterworth-Heinemann

Schepers, F., Koene, P. & Beerda, B., (2009), ‘Welfare assessment in pet rabbits’, Animal Welfare, 18, 477-485

Zucca, D., Redaelli V., Marelli S.P., Bonazza V., Heinzl E., Verga M. & Luzi F.,(2012), ‘Effect of handling in pre-weaned rabbits’, World Rabbit Science, 20, 97-101.

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